Tale of two slums in Pune and communal harmony
A six-month study into Hindu-Muslim communal harmony and communal dynamics in two slums of Pune has acquired relevance in the light of the recent communal clashes in Delhi which saw the deaths of 42 people as of February 28.
Conducted during February to July, 2019 in the Tadiwala road and Yerawada slums of Pune, the researcher Mukul Ahmad said about her findings: “There is a syncretic co-existence without trespassing on each other’s beliefs, as (Mahatma) Gandhi would have liked. People of all faiths, while adhering to their own beliefs participate in each other’s celebrations wherever possible and permissible. There is a lot of give-and-take and common responses to problems confronting residents, but many believe that if things change at the national level then the situation can turn ugly, with the youth having a mind of their own and one cannot state about what will happen in future.”
A former teacher of English as a foreign language and an MPhil in Political Science from Delhi University, Ahmad was guided in her research by RK Mutatkar, former professor of Sociology, Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU). Her study ‘Gandhi and Non-Violent Communication: Community dynamics between Hindus and Muslims in two slums of Pune’, was initiated under a fellowship on Gandhian philosophy instituted by the Pune-based National Institute of Naturopathy (NIN), an institute under the Ministry of Ayush.
“People live cheek-by-jowl as is seen in most of the slums. The Tadiwala road slum has a population of around one lakh and comprises 60 per cent Buddhists, 20 per cent Muslims and 20 per cent Hindus which includes OBCs (Other Backward Castes) and Marathas,” said Ahmad. The other slum she studied was the Yerawada slum which is one of the most congested and has a population of 3.5 lakh.
Detailed interviews with 60 women in the slums revealed that in the slums, “there is a bit of each other’s religion in each and everyone’s lives”.
The slum dwellers had strong beliefs in the miracles of God which was a part of the folklore while growing up in their villages. In the slums, they drew strength from trusting their neighbours, be they Hindu or Muslim.
Ahmad has cited the example of a Hindu family’s reverence for the Tazia (a religious custom among Shia Muslims), and the distant, inactive participation of Muslims in Hindu festivals.
The researcher found a strong bond among the women. This worked as a restraint on the youth and the men and prevented them from breaking out into communal clashes and in keeping them together as a whole.
One reason for the high, inter-communal trust among the slum dwellers was the fact that all of them were poorly educated. According to her, the educated and urban city dwellers were less dependent on others and had more resources at their disposal. Such groups “built their assumptions on perceived notions of the ‘other’ with no first-hand experience of the ‘other’”. The educated and privileged middle class did not have any “lived experience of the other like those living in slums, where living harmoniously comes from taking efforts to keep tensions away by deleting hate messages and relying on local leadership and their decision for keeping out of trouble,” said Ahmad.
According to Ahmad, the slums teach a valuable lesson in communal harmony from the ‘lived experience’.
Referring to the communal tensions in the country today, she said, Gandhi’s teachings might not work in the “charged atmosphere” where hate messages of a “sickening” kind were circulating in society.
Gandhi and NIN
The study was initiated under a fellowship programme on Gandhian philosophy instituted by the National Institute of Naturopathy (NIN), an institute in alternate health systems under the Ministry of Ayush.
The fellowship is the outcome of NIN’s close association with Mahatma Gandhi who used to stay at the Institute of Naturopathy in the pre-Independence era. The institute later became the National Institute of Naturopathy (NIN) under the Ayush ministry.